Mayor Sandy Stimpson would like to deal with a backlog of building maintenance costs in a way similar to how the city dealt with an infrastructure backlog, but with one glaring difference.
This time he doesn’t want to use a tax increase.
Stimpson admitted the capital improvement plan, which uses some $30 million from a sales tax increase to put toward infrastructure costs, has been a popular way to deal with a $250 million backlog. Using the program as an example, he told a gaggle of reporters at Central Fire Station in late April he’d like to find a funding stream to deal with $224 million in maintenance costs on city facilities.
Various structures, including the Civic Center, recreation centers, fire stations and other buildings, are currently in need of $83 million in deferred maintenance. The city owns 367 buildings and 1,159 parcels of land, Stimpson said. Another $142 million needs to be set aside for future maintenance costs over the next 10 years, according to a facilities assessment completed by the CBRE Group.
“The goal at the end of the day is to have vibrant spaces for our citizens when they go into a recreation center, when they go into a park or they come into a city office or fire station … we want it at a standard higher, certainly, than where we are today,” Stimpson said. “So, as we set that standard, that’s going to require us to look at lots of things we’re doing today because coming up with a funding stream, like we did for CIP, where we did a penny sales tax — raising taxes to solve this problem is not going to happen.”
Instead, the city would look to cut non-essential government services while consolidating and even selling some city buildings based on the recommendations from the assessment. The city would look to create a funding stream of roughly $20 million per year for maintenance.
“That will not be a one-time conversation; that will be an ongoing conversation,” Stimpson said. “All of this will be an ongoing process.”
Stimpson didn’t completely rule out using the CIP money currently earmarked for each of the seven City Council districts for building maintenance costs.
“I think that CIP dollars would be a last, last, last resort,” he said. “I mean, CIP is a very popular program and I think the citizens will find out this is going to be a very popular program, too. So, if the City Council — they love the CIP program — they will do everything they can to protect it, but that’s going to mean they have to do some other things differently.”
While recommendations range from consolidating city-owned buildings housing different offices of the Mobile Police Department to a plan Stimpson hinted at during a meeting of the Mobile City Council to bring together police and Mobile Fire-Rescue headquarters, none of those decisions have been made, city spokeswoman Laura Byrne said.
For example, maintenance costs for the police and fire headquarters alone over the next 10 years could top out at more than $7 million, according to information released by the city.
Currently, the city budgets $1.2 million per year to maintain all of its facilities, Stimpson said.
Stimpson did mention some properties that could be easier to part with.
“There are probably a number of small properties that we don’t need to own that we’re having to mow them and take care of them,” he said. “We need to be creative as other cities have, and if you’ve got a property that for some reason the city ended up with and the city is having to maintain the lot, we’d be better off figuring out a way to give it to the next-door neighbor who’s willing to maintain it.”
However, to sell property there has to be mutual interest. Georgia-based developer Pace Burt, who once toured Central Fire Station with an eye toward turning it into apartments, said the ability to sell city-owned property would be based largely on its location. He admitted the process can be “tricky” when bidding is involved.
“It depends on the building,” he said. “It depends on where it’s located.”
In Mobile’s case, access to historic tax credits helps, Burt said.
Dianne Irby, executive director of engineering and development, said while the report makes a number of recommendations, the city may not act on all of them. The assessment produced 139 reports on structures totaling 3.4 million square feet. The assessment looked at overall conditions of the roofing, windows, interiors, HVAC systems and plumbing, as well as life safety and structural components. The report estimated repair costs for each deficiency, according to information from the city.
As for a timeline to get things started, Stimpson said the sooner, the better.
“If I could do something tomorrow, I’d do it,” Stimpson said. “If I had the sole ability to do anything to start the process tomorrow I’d do it. That’s how quickly I believe it needs to start happening.”